Chart 5: An Empty House

In the summer of 1977, several of my high-school classmates, my girlfriend among them, went to Europe for a month. I didn’t. I can’t remember why. I suppose it was some combination of the expense of the trip and the reluctance I had back then for doing things that were slam-dunk good ideas—a reluctance that drives me mad when I think about it today.

So, while she was gone, I continued to live the life of a 17-year-old kid in the summer. I had a couple of part-time jobs in town, neither of which I liked very much, except that they got me out of having to drive a tractor on the farm, although I probably did some of that, too. I wrote her lots of letters on those blue Aerograms that were relatively cheap to send across the ocean. I played softball on Friday nights. Shortly after she got back, I got dragged on the last family vacation all five of us would take together, on which I definitely did not want to go. My mother never would have said it, but the main reason was clear: No way in hell are we leaving you and your girlfriend with the chance to be unchaperoned in our house for a week.

That August, that whole summer—come on, the whole damn decade; you know whose blog you’re reading—the radio was always on. Here are five records from that season, taken from the Cash Box chart dated August 6, 1977. (The Cash Box Archives are off-line at the moment, so I can’t link to the chart as I usually do; I miss them.)

8. “Easy”/Commodores (up from 15)One of my part-time jobs that summer was at a grocery store. I’ve had some bad jobs, but this was the worst: hideous back-breaking drudgery with a boss who had the subtle manner of Tony Soprano and co-workers whose IQs, collectively, barely broke 100. I lasted about a month before I quit, and one of the memories that flashes through my head sometimes when “Easy” comes on puts me behind the wheel of my car, leaving that job, having decided I would quit the next day. “Easy” deserves better: I love everything about it, from the stately piano chords that open it to the shouted “easy like Sunday morning!” Lionel Richie tosses off at the fade.

14. “Just a Song Before I Go”/Crosby Stills and Nash (up from 20). A song about parting at the airport? Right in my wheelhouse that summer. Today I’d rank it among my favorite CSN records, without a wasted moment at 2:16.

25. “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA (down from 11). Sometimes the radio looked into the future and sent warnings back: “Walking through an empty house / Tears in my eyes / This is where the story ends / This is goodbye.” Despite the letters that flew back and forth across 4,000 miles of distance in July and August, she and I were maybe three months away from a painful breakup that neither of us could explain.

27. “Smoke From a Distant Fire”/Sanford-Townsend Band (up from 27). I don’t recall the exact content of the letters we wrote—mundane news and sweet nothings, probably—but I do remember telling her about this song and saying I couldn’t wait for her to hear it when she got home. It’s another perfect radio record, with endless ways for a disc jockey to talk it up. When it comes on in the car, I’ll do it just to amuse myself, and if it comes up on my radio show in a place where I’m not supposed to talk it up . . . well, you do the math.

43. “Way Down”/Elvis Presley (up from 46). After eight weeks on the Cash Box chart, the latest Elvis record, which had gotten some airplay on the stations I listened to, had stalled outside the Top 40, and would start on its way down (rimshot) the next week. But on August 16th, Elvis would die, and “Way Down” would end up in the top 20. We were on that vacation I didn’t want to take when we heard the news, and I remember us hurrying into a motel room to turn on Walter Cronkite to see what had happened.

When watch the movie that is our past, we see ourselves headed toward certain doors. Some we know we’re going through and some we know we’re not, but as we watch, pretending we don’t know, we say to ourselves: “Open it, dammit, open it!” and “Don’t go there, don’t . . . oh, hell, you did.” In my movie, during the 1977 part, that happens a lot.

5 responses

  1. I might have told this tale on these pages before, but “Knowing Me Knowing You” was my first Abba purchase, a 45 obtained at Kmart possibly after my last day of Vacation Bible School. You can gather which incident generated the life lessons that stuck. It’s still my favorite Abba production and arrangement, especially the repeating guitar lick at the fade. “Way Down” would join this shell-shocked Elvis fan’s collection before school revved up again, thanks to that same Kmart (who unprecedentedly stocked an array of RCA Gold Standard oldies 45s from Elvis’ œuvre for at least a month).

    1. (I forgot to caps-lock ABBA’s name, but at least you’ll never hear me bitch about their Hall of Fame induction. Or anyone’s, for that matter.)

  2. Agreed on “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” This might be my favorite ABBA song, in fact. This or “The Name of the Game” or “SOS.” Absolutely deserving of their Hall of Fame status.

  3. I haven’t seen those blue aeorgrams in at least 30 years… I imagine email has pretty much killed that as a method of communicating. But just seeing them mentioned took me back to the 70s when my Mom would regularly use those to write to her family overseas.

    As for “Smoke from a Distant Fire,” I couldn’t decide then and still can’t decide now if it’s laziness or sheer genius that they’s rhyme “mist” with “dist,” breaking up the word to slam the point home. Probably a little bit of both.

  4. damn, Elvis sounds tired on “Way Down.”

    I hate everything about CSN (except Nash WAS in the Hollies; he’s slightly spared) but”Just a Song” is pop perfection. And also for me very evocative of that summer.

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